Wuxia and Jianghu — Fairy Tale of the Adult World

wuxia and jianghu

What is Wuxia?


Wuxia is a form of Chinese literature regarding adventurous and chivalrous stories of martial heroes in Jianghu. 


Wu is braveness, martial art, courage, and all the fight skills.


Xia includes virtuous heroes and their moral values.


Based on those thrilling stories, Wuxia novels, films, dramas, and games have been produced extensively in recent decades, which made Wuxia an important popular culture in China.


What is Jianghu?


Jianghu represents a world in ancient Chinese culture.


Jianghu is the world that hermits and civilians live in, the complete opposite of the ruling class that includes royals, officials, and political rules.


Jianghu is a society of chivalrous martial heroes, who behave and fight freely for their values and morals, who could pursue justice and freedom without restrictions.

martial arts in wuxia

Origin and History of Wuxia.


Since the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC — 403 BC), when the suzerain Zhou Empire kept losing authority, and other vassal states kept competing over hegemony, a group of people evolved out of the gradual loosen social structure. 


They were, originally called You Xia, heroes with excellent martial art skills, always chose promises over their lives, could be killed but never be defeated. 


In history, they had assisted Lord Xinling (? — 243 BC) steal the commander's seal to deploy troops and save the Zhao State. 


Two of the most famous ones tried to assassinate kings to support their own masters. 


One was Zhuan Zhu, who successfully assassinated King Liao of Wu in 515 BC. He was killed by the king's guards soon, but his master enthroned as King Helv of Wu. 

Spear of Fuchai, Son of the King Helv of Wu

Spear of Fuchai, Son of the King Helv of Wu — Hubei Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Another was Jing Ke, who promised the crown prince of Yan State to assassinate the powerful King of Qin, when the Qin's army kept annexing other states.


But he failed and was killed, and Yan State was perished by General Wang Jian very soon, who was sent by the angry King of Qin, also respected as Qin Shi Huang.


Since then, their spirits, bravery, courage, and faithfulness had been praised in the successive dynasties, by great scholars and poets, such as Sima Qian (about 145 BC — ?) and Li Bai (701 — 762). 


Stories of people like them also have been created and popularized in poems and novels, which formed the entire world of Wuxia.


Characteristics of Wuxia.


  • Wuxia, from the beginning, is about the civilian class.


Whoever follows the Wuxia spirit would be respected as the hero or Xia, with no specific ceremonies nor rules, or social status requirements.  


  • Most Wuxia heroes and stories have strong nationalist spirits.


  • Wuxia novels are usually set in certain historic backgrounds, mostly an era with incapable government, or full of wars. 


  • Compared to Realism literature, Wuxia is more focused to praise the good sides of humanity, such as brotherhood, pure romance, faith, big love to mankind, etc. 


  • Endings of Wuxia generally represent the rule which good and evil will always be rewarded, even though countless difficulties and sufferings are in the middle. 


  • Heroes in Wuxia, no matter how much they accomplished, would always end up living in Jianghu seclusively, instead of serving the royals. 


  • Wuxia heroes live outside of hierarchy and law, fight for justice and to protect good people, and always choose freedom over power and money. 

wuxia heroes

What are Wuxia Spirits?


  • Braveness and benevolent.

  • To rebel against injustice, and to fight against abusive power, such as corrupt officials and bullies.

  • To help the weak and poor, and to protect the country and people. 

  • Altruistically do good deeds to maintain the justice and moral codes of Jianghu in their beliefs, not for financial rewards or fame. 

  • Value promises and righteous reputation over their lives, money, and power. 

  • Be loyal to their beliefs and freedom.

  • Doctrines and moral codes of Mohism, an important ancient philosophical school.

Well Trained and Brave Swordsman of Mohism

What Are the Cultural Elements of Wuxia Novels?


Generally, in a good Wuxia novel, one of the most influential literary genres, many cultural elements would be included, such as history, local customs, traditional Chinese medicine, Yin Yang and Five Elements, geology, cuisines, poetry, literature, art, music, and so on. 


List of Famous Wuxia Novels.

The Seven Heroes and Five Gallants or San Xia Wu Yi 


The Seven Heroes and Five Gallants or San Xia Wu Yi, written by Shi Yukun and published in 1879, is the first long Wuxia novel in China. 


Some heroes protected and assisted the upright and fearless politician Bao Zheng (999 — 1062), to trial a series of cases and bring justice to civilians. 


Together, with their intelligence and bravery, they defeated powerful ministers, rooted out strong bullies, evicted evil bandits, and brought civilians safe and wealthy lives. 

fights in wuxia novel

Twin of Brothers or Da Tang Shuang Long Zhuan

Twin of Brothers or Da Tang Shuang Long Zhuan, written by Huang Yi, is about the self-growth and accomplishments of two heroes. 

In the late Sui Dynasty (581 — 618), rebellious wars outburst all over the nation, and civilians were living in chaos and poverty. 

Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling are two orphans that grew up on street, close as brothers. 

They obtained Kung Fu Cheats that made them martial art masters, gradually organized their own army, and kept expanding and winning. 

To bring people a peaceful world, they complied with their long-term enemy, marshal, and Prince of Qin Li Shimin (599 — 649), and later assisted him to initiate the Xuanwumen Incident. 

After having succeeded, Li Shimin was enthroned as Emperor Taizong of Tang, these two brothers left and lived seclusive lives. 

Sculpture Stone Horses in Tang Tai Zong's Mausoleum (Zhao Ling), War Horses of His Six Important Wars.

Stone Horses in Emperor Li Shimin's Mausoleum (Zhao Ling), War Horses of His Six Important Wars.
The Last Two Are In Penn Museum, The Rest Are in the Forest of Stone Steles Museum of Xi'an.

Legend of the Great Tang Dynasty Hero or Da Tang You Xia Zhuan


Legend of the Great Tang Dynasty Hero or Da Tang You Xia Zhuan, written by Liang Yusheng, is about stories of heroes during the tragic An-Shi Rebellion (755 — 763). 


They saved friends from enemies, volunteered to assist great general Zhang Xun (708 — 757) in the epic Battle of Suiyang, and sacrificed heroically protecting their country and people. 

wuxia heroes protecting the city

Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils or Tian Long Ba Bu


Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils or Tian Long Ba Bu, written by Jin Yong, is a masterpiece about the struggle against destiny, and pursuit and discussion of humanity.


The three main characters, a hero from the Northern Song Dynasty (960 — 1127) who later became a minister of the Liao Dynasty (907 — 1125), a royal prince of Dali Kingdom (937 — 1253), a monk that later married a princess of Western Xia Dynasty (1038 — 1127), became sincere friends after a series of encounters and fights side by side.


They tried their best to fight against and conquer their inner struggles, whether to serve the kingdom he loves or genetically belongs to, to pursue dreams or to take responsibility, to stick to rules, or to love. 


After difficult struggles, they all found inner peace and stopped a big war initiated by the Liao Kingdom, under the expanse of a tragic huge loss.  

Ceremonial Jade Weapon (Gu Duo) of the Kingdom Liao

Ceremonial Jade Weapon (Gu Duo) of the Liao Kingdom — Aohan Prehistory Museum in Inner Mongolia (Photo by Dongmaiying)

The Legend of the Condor Heroes or She Diao Ying Xiong Zhuan


The Legend of the Condor Heroes or She Diao Ying Xiong Zhuan, written by Jin Yong, is about the story of a boy growing into a great marshal. 


Guo Jing saved and befriended a boy from the royal clan of Mongols, assisted Genghis Khan  (1162 — 1227) established the Mongol Empire. 


Later, he came to Southern Song Dynasty (1127 — 1279), met the love of his life, and revenged for his father. 


When Genghis Khan commanded him to lead the army and invade Southern Song, he refused and escaped. 


He and his love lived in seclusion and built a family together, but they came back to protect an important military site named Xiangyang when the Mongol Empire sent troops there. 

Ancient Gate and Citywall of Xiangyang.

Ancient Gate and Citywall of Xiangyang.

The Wanderer Chronicles or Ping Zong Xia Ying Lu


The Wanderer Chronicles or Ping Zong Xia Ying Lu, written by Liang Yusheng, is a story about family feuds and the Righteousness of the nation.


The main character Zhang Danfeng was a descendent of a general that defeated by Zhu Yuanzhang, the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1328 — 1398). 


Zhang's entire family's mission was to search vengeance on the royals of the Ming Empire. 


Yet, when the destructive Tumu Crisis happened in 1449, in which Ming Empire lost its main force, the emperor Zhu Qizhen got captured, and the enemy was marching toward Ming's capital city, Zhang Danfeng didn't take this opportunity to revenge, even he got big chances to succeed.


Instead, he donated all the treasures he found, assisted chancellor Yu Qian defeated the enemy's invasion, and arranged to welcome the emperor back. 


Afterward, Zhang and his love lived a happy life in seclusion. 

Firearm (Huo Chong) Produced in 1450 to Protect Ming

Firearm (Huo Chong) Produced During this Defensive War — National Museum of China

The Deer and the Cauldron or Lu Ding Ji


The Deer and the Cauldron, or The Duke of Mount Deer, or Lu Ding Ji, written by Jin Yong, is a story about a young boy born and raised in a brothel, and his involvement in important historical events of the early Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912). 


Unlike other Wuxia novels, the main character Wei Xiaobao knows nothing about martial art but street smartness. 


He saved a brave man, who later agreed to take him to the capital city. 


Wei Xiaobao was accidentally sent to the royal palace as a eunuch, met and befriended with the young Kangxi Emperor (1654 — 1722), and assisted the emperor successfully evicting a powerful regent. 

His braveness gained the emperor's trust, as well as respect from a big folk organization that was trying to overthrow the emperor's reign and to recover the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644). 


Wei Xiaobao successfully dealt with these hostile forces, made great contributions to both the emperor and the organization.


Meanwhile, he had been struggling about whether be loyal to his organization and late empire Ming, or to his emperor friend that rewarded him with paramount power and money. 


Later, Kangxi Emperor found out his involvement in this rebellious organization and commanded him to perish it, while the other side asked him to assassinate the emperor. 


Wei Xiaobao escaped to the south and lived in seclusion with his seven beautiful wives. 

Part of "Kangxi Emperor's Southern Inspection Tour" (Kangxi Nan Xun Tu) that Describes Kangxi Emperor's Visit in Jiangsu Province

Part of "Kangxi Emperor's Southern Inspection Tour" (Kangxi Nan Xun Tu) that Describes Kangxi Emperor's Visit in Jiangsu Province, Painted by Wang Hui and Yang Jin in 1691 to 1693 — Palace Museum

Sentimental Swordsman, Ruthless Sword or Duoqing Jianke Wuqing Jian


Sentimental Swordsman, Ruthless Sword or Duoqing Jianke Wuqing Jian, written by Gu Long, is about an altruistic hero and his life of completing others. 


Li Xunhuan, an upright official with exceptional martial skills, got supplanted and quitted from politics. 


After seeing his savior Long, also a good friend, who has been suffering lovesickness to his fiancé, Li Xunhuan started to act like a horrible person and behaved distant, which made his fiancé choose Long. 


Li Xunhuan gave out most of his money to this newly wedded couple and left. 


But Long realized that his wife was still in love with Li Xunhuan, and his intense jealousy cause a series of vengeance activities, which forced Li to come back to Jianghu from seclusion life. 

swordsman in wuxia novel

The Smiling, Proud Wanderer or Xiao Ao Jianghu


The Smiling, Proud Wanderer or Xiao Ao Jianghu, written by Jin Yong, is a story of an outsider hero in a chaotic Jianghu. 


Linghu Chong, an orphan raised up by an upright master, gained excellent martial art skills, but had his heart broken by his first love. 


Later, he found that in this Jianghu, many upright organizations have dark secrets and committed unspeakable sins, including his master that he had worshipped in his entire life. 


After being evicted by his master, Linghu Chong felt he belonged nowhere. During this period, he met and fell in love with a girl from the demonic organization.


He realized that upright or demonic, it is all about people, about humanity. 


Darkness and betrayal come out of the lust for power and money, and the bright sides are about great love, sincere friendship, and the pursuit of peace and justice.


A few years later, people that pursued power, by all means, were either defeated or passed away, Linghu Chong and his love became leaders of the two sides of Jianghu, the upright and the demonic organizations. 


Under their commands, people in Jianghu made peace and stopped all hostilities, and this couple then lived in seclusion, far away from Jianghu and power. 

wuxia novel heroes in seclusion